Insta Review: Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall, by Wendy Mass

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Another seriously quirky story from Wendy Mass. The novel opens with a dodgeball hurtling toward Tessa’s head. Those few seconds stretch into slow motion as Tessa considers ducking to get out of the way – but then decides not to. The dodgeball puts her in a coma, and her subconscious takes her to a place that has had a huge impact on her life – the mall. In a predictable plot, Tessa receives a bag full of items that she has bought or received from this mall over the years, and the collection of seemingly unimportant pieces triggers a torrent of chronological memories, helping the reader to see how she came to be the girl covered in blood lying on the gym floor. I didn’t connect with Tessa. Maybe it was because Heaven is a novel in verse, which I normally love, but in this case felt unnatural and left so much of her character undeveloped. Or maybe it was the way the snapshots felt unconnected, leaving me feeling like I never really got to know her very well. Whatever the reason, I didn’t have any strong feelings one way or another about whether Tessa woke up from her coma…which is generally not a good sign. Also, we spent the whole book reading about how Tessa was so awful and so disappointing for making very common teenage offenses – stealing something, saying something without thinking, feeling jealous, experimenting with different friend groups and personality types. These moments of imperfection don’t make young people bad; they are what allow them to grow and change and learn about themselves. I hope that my middle schoolers don’t read this and think that they deserve a dodgeball to the skull for making a rude comment or smoking a cigarette. Not a favorite for me, but a big hit with my fifth grade gals. #stabsummerreading

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